LOS ANGELES – Olympic champions and world-record holders Simone Manuel (Sugar Land, Texas/Alto Swim Club) and Caeleb Dressel (Green Cove Springs, Fla./Bolles School Sharks/Florida), who led Team USA with standout performances at last summer’s FINA World Championships, took home Athlete of the Year honors on Sunday at USA Swimming’s annual Golden Goggle Awards.
This year’s event, hosted by comedian Matthew Broussard, celebrated the accomplishments of the U.S. team at the 2019 FINA World Championships, which claimed 30 medals across pool and open water competition in Gwangju, South Korea. The evening benefited the USA Swimming Foundation.
Dressel took home two Golden Goggle Awards Sunday – Male Athlete of the Year and Male Race of the Year. Dressel earned Race of the Year honors for breaking Michael Phelps’ 10-year-old world record during the semifinals of the 100m fly at the 2019 FINA World Championships. His time of 49.50 broke the mark by .32. Dressel later went on to become just the fourth man to win multiple titles in this event when he won his fifth gold medal of the world championships, posting the second-fastest time ever in the event (49.66) during finals.
Dressel was the only nominee in the Male Athlete of the Year category for his dominating performance at the FINA World Championships, bringing home eight world championships medals, a mark no other swimmer has ever accomplished. His six gold medals tied for the third-most by a male swimmer at a single world championships competition since 1973. Dressel also added his name to the record books by recording world records in the 100m fly and as part of the mixed 4x100m free relay, while also capturing American records in the 50m free, 100m free and 50m fly. His American record-breaking performance in the 50m fly also earned him the first gold by an American in the event’s history. On the penultimate day in Gwangju, Dressel won three gold medals in one day, which has only been accomplished once before — also by Dressel in 2017.
“It’s hilarious that some little kid who was playing soccer or football growing up would now be standing on top of the world for swimming,” Dressel said. “My dad used to say that whatever your profession is, no matter what it is you do, make sure you enjoy it, make sure you’re good at it and try to be best in the world at it, and that’s just what I’m doing.”
Manuel finished the 2019 FINA World Championships with more medals than any woman at a single world championships when she brought home seven – four gold and three silver. She also became the first American woman to win the 50m free at the world championships since Amy Van Dyken in 1998. She is also the only American woman to win both the 50 and 100m free at the world championships. In addition to her two American records set in Gwangju, she also anchored the mixed 4x100m free relay and the women’s 4x100m medley relay to two world records.
“When I first started in swimming it was pretty difficult for me – it’s still pretty difficult to this day – but often times I didn’t fit in or feel it was the sport for me,” Manuel told the crowd of more than 600 attendees. “Often times people questioned why I was swimming because ‘I’m not supposed to swim’ and it’s really difficult. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d stand up here and receive this award. What I’ve learned through this journey is to follow your passion and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything.”
Breakout Performer of the Year honoree Regan Smith (Lakeville, Minn./Riptide Aquatics) had quite the season in 2019. In the semifinals of the women’s 200m back at the FINA World Championships, she dropped her personal best by 2.66 seconds to smash Missy Franklin’s 2012 world record with a time of 2:03.35. The following day, the 17-year-old would go on to win the gold in the 200m back – her first world championships medal. Smith also earned a nod for Female Race of the Year for her semifinals performance in the 200m back.
Smith pocketed another gold in Gwangju after leading off the 4x100m medley relay, where she also broke the 100m back world record with her leadoff time of 57.57 en route to Team USA’s world-record breaking relay performance. Smith also won five events in TYR Pro Swim Series competitions and captured a national title in the 200m fly at the 2019 Phillips 66 National Championships.
Manuel, Smith, Lilly King (Evansville, Ill./Indiana University) and Kelsi Dalia (Westampton, N.J./Cardinal Aquatics) teamed up to win Relay Performance of the Year honors for the women’s 4x100m medley relay, one of the defining moments of the entire world championships as two world records were set in just one race.
Smith set a new world record in the leadoff leg of the relay, going 57.57 in the 100m back. Though the blazing start gave Team USA a commanding lead, the rest of the relay also had strong swims. Both King’s breaststroke split, and Manuel’s freestyle split were the fastest times of their respective relay legs, while Dahlia’s butterfly split of 56.16 was only bested by 100m fly world champion, Maggie McNeil. The four American women set a world record of 3:50.40, besting the previous mark of 3:51.55 set by Team USA in 2017.
Smith’s coach, Mike Parratto, won his first Coach of the Year accolade following a 2019 season that was highlighted by the continued emergence of his talented young backstroker. For both Smith’s and his club’s successes, Parratto was also recognized as the 2019 American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) Coach of the Year.
Earning the Perseverance Award was eight-time Olympic medalist Nathan Adrian (Bremerton, Wash./California Aquatics). Just seven months after his testicular cancer diagnosis, Adrian anchored the 4x100m free relay at the FINA World Championships to a championship record and a gold medal. He earned another world championships gold medal by swimming in the prelims of the mixed 4x100m free relay and later anchored the 4x100m medley relay to secure silver for Team USA. Just a couple of weeks later, Adrian made his Pan American Games debut in Lima, Peru where he would win five medals (two gold and three silver) – more than any American man.
Proceeds from the Golden Goggle Awards benefit the USA Swimming Foundation, whose mission is to save lives and build champions – in the pool and in life. In addition to its Make a Splash initiative, a national, child-focused water safety campaign that stresses the importance of learning to swim, the USA Swimming Foundation supports the U.S. National Team and its development efforts aimed at strengthening the future of USA Swimming’s programs and services.
2019 USA Swimming Golden Goggle Award Winners:
Female Athlete of the Year: Simone Manuel
Male Athlete of the Year: Caeleb Dressel
Female Race of the Year: Regan Smith, Women’s 200m backstroke semifinal
Male Race of the Year: Caeleb Dressel, Men’s 100m butterfly semifinal
Relay Performance of the Year: Women’s 4x100m medley relay
Breakout Performer of the Year: Regan Smith
Perseverance Award: Nathan Adrian
Coach of the Year: Mike Parratto